One Life – Review

Worth seeing: for the moment - seen by older people on TV and younger viewers on YouTube - when Sir Nicholas Winton's heroic actions were finally publicly recognised.
Director:James Hawes
Featuring:Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Adrian Rawlins, Alex Sharp, Darren Clarke, Emily Laing, Helena Bonham Carter, Henrietta Garden, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Olin, Marthe Keller, Michael Gould, Romola Garai, Samantha Spiro, Samuel Finzi, Ziggy Heath
Length:110 minutes
Released:1st January 2024


It’s the late 1980s and a long-retired stock-broker, Nicholas Winton (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is throwing out some junk to tidy up his house when he stumbles across an old leather satchel.

We flash back to the late 1930s, when the young Nicholas (Johnny Flynn) takes time off work to visit Czechoslovakia, where Jewish refugees from across eastern Europe are already fleeing the Nazis, in anticipation of what was to come.

While Nicholas’ friends are content with ensuring that the refugees are housed and fed, he thinks they can do more and devises a plot – involving a team of volunteers on the ground and his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) back home.

His mother successfully badgered Home Office officials to speed up visa approvals, so that over the weeks that followed, hundreds of children were brought to the UK and housed with families.

But when the Second World War finally began, the operation came shuddering to a halt, leaving Nicholas with a deep feeling of guilt about those children left behind.

The discovery of the old leather satchel, decades later, brings his memories back into sharp relief, as others learn about his remarkable story.


Filmed almost entirely in the Czech Republic – even the scenes set in London – One Life tells two parallel stories, fifty years apart; how the young Nicholas Winton put into action a plan that saved more than six hundred children from the Nazis and how an older Nicholas Winton was finally recognised as an unsung hero for his outstanding humanitarian efforts.

Johnny Flynn effectively portrays the younger man’s wide-eyed idealism and optimism, while Sir Anthony Hopkins is modest as he tries to hide his past – or at least retain some control over what happens to it.

The derring-do of Johnny Flynn and his associates plays out as an exciting wartime adventure, while the slower-paced story of the character’s later years is a more quiet drama about the responsibility of coming to terms with your past. Each is suitably engaging and they’re cut together effectively.

Older viewers might recall how the story of Sir Nicholas Winton’s heroism first became public knowledge and anyone who’s ever Googled him will have stumbled across a YouTube video of that big moment the film is leading up to and if you’ve seen it, it’ll be hard for any narrative feature film to match it for its emotional punch, but even if you know what’s coming up, it’ll still be hard to hold back the tears.

Some of the supporting characters feel a little convenient – as if they’ve been created to steer the story along, but Helena Bonham Carter is a lot of fun as Mrs Winton. But the clue is in the title – the secondary characters are almost irrelevant to One Life – this film is really just about one man, who holds a secret for five decades but remains as dedicated to the cause throughout.

However, as big as the story is, the film itself – at times – feels oddly parochial. Rather than being told across a huge canvas, even some of the big set pieces feel a little too intimate for a war film – almost to the extent that it would be as comfortable on TV as on the big screen – which is, perhaps, fitting, given the true origin of Sir Anthony’s storyline.